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The power of choice

Roman Colisseum“Alea jacta est” was what Julius Caesar reputedly said when he crossed the Rubicon river in 49 BC. “The die is cast” is the English translation. (“Die,” here, is the singular form of “dice.”) Crossing the Rubicon was the start of the Roman Civil War, and lead to the creation of what we now refer to as the Roman Empire. I often think about that phrase. “The die is cast.” It makes me wonder which events in our lives — once set in motion — cannot be undone. Plus, how they differ from those that can be reversed.

As you well know, once Humpty Dumpty fell from that great wall, the results were pre-determined and even with the assistance of all the King’s horses and men, he couldn’t be resuscitated. I imagine the King’s men included some top-notch surgeons of the day, but of what use the horses were supposed to be, I can’t guess.

Once Mother Goose sat down and penned these words with quills aplenty, she sent Humpty Dumpty on his way; the die was cast, as it were. When Humpty Dumpty became an egg, no one seems to know exactly. But that belief appears to be a cast of different sorts; one in stone, it seems. Do you wonder how that became common belief?

Large BoatFor another example -— I like the books of Joseph Conrad (you should read Heart of Darkness if you read nothing else of his, although my example here differs). In his book Lord Jim, Conrad’s character Marlowe tells the story of Jim, a young British seaman on the sailing ship Patna. You could say that like Humpty, one singular event cast the die.

One night, the ship strikes something in the darkness and begins to take on water. The Captain and his officers, negligent of their duty, abandon the passengers and take to the lifeboat. Jim — at the last moment — spontaneously jumps aboard the lifeboat to safety. The Patna doesn’t end up sinking after all, and its passengers are rescued by another ship. When Jim and the ship’s officers return to port, they are disgraced. That shame and disgrace follow Jim for the rest of his life. (I have always enjoyed the images created by Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, and even Jimmy Buffett.  I wanted to go to sea myself, but then again, I would even get sick on the merry-go-round.  No twelve-foot seas for me!)

Back to the story, I believe that the character Jim wanted to live a life of honor — but he failed in a critical moment. The die was then cast that would direct the course of his life. I want to be an honorable man in life, and the challenge is to be honorable every day and in every decision each day. Like Lord Jim, however, one can make a single rash decision that will change the course of life forever.

I also want to be a wealthy and successful man. Is this an honorable pursuit? I think the answer lies in the path one takes to wealth. Wealth, in and of itself, is neither honorable nor dishonorable. The question lies in what we do — or do not do — to acquire it.

Woman HikingSo how does one accomplish such a thing? I saw a discarded hand-written sign on the poster board at the gym just this morning, of all places, with a nugget of wisdom on it.  It read, “Fall in love with the process. The results will follow.”

I like that a lot. Clearly — if one wants to be honorable — one should decide every moment to act, choose, or think honorably until it becomes ingrained in our nature. If one wishes to become wealthy, one should decide to make monetary decisions with that goal in mind with each and every available opportunity.

The ‘how’ isn’t that hard.  It’s the choosing that trips up most of us.

August 2019

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